The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

How Peace In Ukraine Has Been Made Almost Impossible

To make peace either one side has to be unable to fight any more, or both sides must want to make peace.

One problem in Ukraine is that both sides (and I don’t mean Ukraine and Russia, but Ukraine/NATO v. Russia) have put themselves into a trap where the leaders of various countries can’t afford to lose the war, because they will lose power.

Support for Ukraine is popular in Europe, but it is also true that such support has cost the Europeans a great deal, and that ordinary Europeans have seen bad economic times as a result. This is especially true in Germany and is seen as true in the UK (where more of the reason is their political leadership.) This will get worse as the war drags on thru the winter, as it seems certain to do, and Russia reduces or cuts off energy supplies as they seem almost certain to do.

Western war propaganda has been about how Ukraine is kicking Russia’s ass, and that Russia’s economy and logistics are on their last legs, while their army is weak and so riddled by refuseniks it can barely fight. Maximalist scenarios, like retaking Donetsk, Luhansk, Crimea and even breaking up Russia have been constantly stated as the war goals.

European politicians have made these statements or implicitly backed them, and if Russia is seen by their own population to win the war then there is likely to be a massive political backlash that loses them their jobs.

My read on Russia has always been that if Putin isn’t seen by Russians as winning the war (it doesn’t matter what Westerners think) then he loses power, as well, and quite possibly his life. To win Putin needs Crimea, Luhansk, a good chunk of the coast and for Ukraine to respect those borders in practice (no military incursions, no artillery or missile strikes) if not in principle.

Ukraine has virtually endless NATO material, surveillance and planning support. The West is willing to fight Russia to the last drop of Ukrainian blood, and even to encourage volunteers (many of whom I suspect are “volunteers”) and mercenaries to fight for them. Ukraine has been drafting for a long time, and still has plenty of manpower.

Russia has a 3 million man reserve. One my wonder if they can really call up all of it and what quality it is, but remember that Russia does have the world’s second largest armaments industry and that the armaments which have been doing the majority of the work aren’t fancy guided missiles (though those get the press), but simple dumb artillery with aid from the type of drones you can by on Amazon. They export food and fuel and can buy most of what they need but don’t make from China and India, where countries are scrambling to get into the market as Western companies leave.

Not only can Russia call up those 3 million, in theory it could draft many more, the question is political will and internal unity. While Western reports of resistance to the call-up seem to me to be one-sides (there are also reports of large numbers of volunteers), I would expect Russia’s political ability to call up men beyond the reserves is limited. The bill which was used to call up 300K was written to allow up to a million to be called.

So both Ukraine/NATO and Russia have a lot of ability to still poor men and weapons into Ukraine. They have incompatible peace criteria: Ukraine is not to give up any land and even take back land it already holds while Russia wants assurances from a Ukraine government it probably can’t get without toppling the government or making it clear that  Ukraine cannot defend itself.

One can legitimately point out that negotiators ask for what they never expect to get and say “neither side can seriously expect to get this?” but this isn’t a private negotiation. Putin and Zelensky and western politicians have to get a deal which their population and powerful interests will accept, and the more the rhetoric has been heated up, the harder that becomes. Putin’s real opposition is the hard right: there is no left wing or liberal opposition in his country.

Then there’s the US: the US economy is suffering, sure, but a lot of it is self-inflicted and US political elites are insulated from popular opinion. The Federal Reserve has just announced it will throw many millions more out of work to crush inflation by crushing wages of poor people rather than hurting the really rich, after all, and in any case the worst costs of the Ukraine war fall on Ukraine (whose suffering is irrelevant to them) and European countries whose weakening making them more reliable American satrapies. Humbling Germany and doing as much harm to their industry as possible is an especial bonus and very important to ensuring there is never a Europe which is independent of America.

All of this means that we’re in a trap. For there to be peace one of two conditions must prevail:

  • One side or the other must make such gains on the battlefield that the other side feels it has no choice but to give in. Russia must make it clear it can destroy Ukraine using conventional force, or Ukraine must actually push the Russians back and make clear they can and will march into all the occupied territory or even strike into Russia.
  • The costs of continuing the war must seem too high to the decision makers or those who can replace the decision makers. This doesn’t just mean Putin and Zelensky, it means NATO leaders and especially America and it means the public coming to find economic conditions intolerable and not worth it. It means China saying they will pull the plug on Russia (very unlikely unless used as pressure for a “get some of what you want deal”). If these conditions prevail on BOTH SIDES and both sides change their propaganda to “Russia gets some land and Ukraine recognizes that” then a deal is possible. Until then it is not.

Judge for yourself how likely these conditions are. World War I went on forever in part because both sides wanted something for having gone to war, and WWII happened because the Allies used their victory in WWI to punish Germany severely.

Peace requires one side to realize it absolutely can’t win and faces devastation if it continues, or it requires both sides to be willing to give up some gains they had hoped to realize. If both sides are committed to goals unacceptable to the other side, peace can’t occur until that changes.



Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – September 25, 2022


No The Solution To Ending Mandatory Masking Isn’t “Well YOU can still mask”


  1. mago

    Armageddon on the way
    Blow this place to kingdom come
    Ain’t nobody giving sway
    Doesn’t matter anyway
    A billion universes abounding
    Surrounding us
    Take the hit
    Suck the . . .
    You think has been feeding us
    Ride your agendas all the way to hell boy on that downward bound express.
    Suerte a cada

  2. Ché Pasa

    Did they learn nothing from the 20th Century wars in Europe? It wasn’t just the world wars; there were plenty of regional wars as well, some of which are still being cleaned up.

    Apparently our rulers want the Russia/Ukraine(Nato) war to continue indefinitely for whatever reason — and there are plenty of them ($$$.) We the rabble can only influence what happens at the margins, if that — true among all the belligerent countries. The rabble has no say; this is a war of elites and oligarchs being fought by fascisti and Nazis, remnant Motherland patriots and poor sods who shouldn’t be forced or “volunteered” to fight one another .

    The cast of characters is very similar to the outset of WWI. We no longer have much of the nobility and aristocracy, no more do kings and emperors rule the roost, though they may swan about as if they did.

    No, our rulers now are not them. Instead. we have corrupt and faltering government systems throughout the west and Mother Russia too. I don’t know how it will resolve. There are efforts to inject some sanity and potential peace into the conflict, but the parties do not see their own advantage in yielding — at least not yet.

    Russia is beleaguered and tattered and making mistakes almost as bad as those of the Tsar. Ukraine is largely depopulated and running on fumes blown in from the West where Nazis have been fully rehabilitated and integrated into the ruling structure — as protectors and enforcers? Amazing. Never thought I’d see the day, but here we are.

    If it ends with our instant incineration, oh well. At least we won’t have to bother with climate change mitigations, or wearing those devil covid masks ever again. Amirite?

  3. VietnamVet

    This post is absolutely correct.

    I will take it one step further. I was in the Vietnam War. The Best and Brightest made a conscious decision not to escalate the war and not to use nuclear weapons. General Westmoreland’s request for a million troops was turned down. The Soviet Union threatened to respond if the USA used their nuclear weapons or invaded North Vietnam. China tested their first fission device on Oct. 16, 1964.

    America lost the war of attrition. As a result, the conscript army was dismantled, the USA went off the Gold Standard, and the Oligarchs’ counter-revolt succeeded. With fall of the Soviet Union, the US/UK Western Empire became the world hegemon promoting the free movement of people, goods, services, and (most importantly) capital.

    Russia is threatening, again, to use tactical nuclear weapons if NATO/Ukraine counteroffensive enters the four Donbas regions voting now to join the Russian Federation.

    Jake Sullivan, Antony Blinken, and Victoria Nuland are not the Best and Brightest. Joe Biden is too old to be anything. The ruling ideology says that only money has value. They are true believers. The fellow travelers simply cannot conceive that Russia will use tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine; or that once the nuclear threshold is crossed that one or the other of the superpowers will ignite their ICBMs to avoid the other side’s first strike.

    They will push, shove, and provoke the Kremlin till they destroy themselves and western civilization along with them. All because the West wants to control Russia’s last global reserves of cheap energy and underdeveloped resources.

  4. NL

    Perhaps, the root causes of the present predicament for both Russia and Ukraine lie in the traumatic dissolution of the former Soviet Union with the accompanying torching of the ideology and pride and respect in its accomplishments. That bred nihilism, thuggery and self-abandon, frowned upon work ethics and being productive and extolled hustling, speculation and gangsterism as the ideal correct way of life. Seems to me that – say – large portions of Ukrainian population and ‘elite’ have decided to never be productive and generally have a death wish — what looks to us as corruption. Since independence, they have lived by consuming what the Soviet Union has made, plundering their land’s natural resources, charging Russia for gas transit, selling their women both in whole and in parts for, e.g., infant surrogacy. Now, their men are selling themselves whole for about $1.5 billion a month. I guess it would be nice if these money did any good for their children… It is sort of like a slow suicide through drug addiction. Russia is not that much better either — they work so that their oligarchy could purchase football clubs, yachts and large mansions in England…

  5. NL

    @bruce wilder
    “That brutal shift in story-telling is something I have a hard time describing articulately”

    I don’t see any qualitative change in the extent of mythmaking, propaganda and storytelling. A quantitative change — maybe, because of the internet. I see an easing in finding truth, because the same internet just enabled me to auto-translate and read a large discussion in China in Chinese about the US GDP. Some Chinese think that our GDP is a myth/propaganda/story — there is definitely something to that… not that China always tells the truth, but it helps to look at things from a different prospective. The internet also enables me to easily search articles and books, read newspaper, etc

    It is many people’s innate proclivity to extoll themselves and berate others — that’s just how many — not all — people are. And that’s how a lot of political ‘discourse’ is — we are good, they are bad… blah, blah, blah… “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”… nothing new… people need to think of themselves as valuable and good… and that they live in the best country, went to the best school, have the biggest house, the most money, etc, etc, etc

    Then there are of course state myths and theology that organize, direct and give meaning to the multitude. What are the Egyptian pyramids but a giant monument to the state theology! I am pretty sure that you know that the word propaganda comes from Congregatio de Propaganda Fide…

    We have our own state myths. According a postdoc who wrote a book on this, it is democratism… She writes in an opinion in WSJ: ” democratism… is an imaginative and idealistic understanding of popular rule that disdains ordinary people and looks to a cadre of so-called experts to operate the levers of power. Under this ideology, “democracy” and “the people” are rhetorical cover for the will of the elites..”

    And then “Woodrow Wilson .. an archdemocrat … advocated some of the most undemocratic measures in American history. … the Sedition Act of 1918—which made it illegal “by word or act” to “oppose the cause of the United States”—… Wilson’s promise to make the world safe for democracy.”

    Seems to me reasonable, except perhaps the word ‘elite’ would need to be replaced with ‘upper bourgeoisie’ or ‘largest asset-holders’… Nothing seems to be new…

  6. Astrid

    We shall see. Why do Westerners who haven’t been to Russia or China or Iran in the last 10 years know so much how corrupt and weak and “ready to collapse” those governments are? (Nevermind Russia’s recent track record for handling Syria, Chechyna, Kazakhstan, Armenia-Azerbaijan. Nevermind how much HSR China has built in the last 20 years and the scale of BRI projects.).

    Why assume that because your governments suck, everybody else’s government sucks similarly? Why trust English language sources that introduce inherent biases even before NED/Soros comes into play? Knowing the strength and weaknesses of a society is hard even for people living in it, “knowing” from Western reporting and from maybe knowing a handful of immigrants from that country who more often than not have their own axes to grind (often not even past histories of oppression or lost riches but just to justify their decision to leave).

  7. bruce wilder

    The rabble, as Ché Pasa writes, have had little say. Oh, sure, UA flag icons decorate instagram accts, and the mainstream media firehose “the narrative” but that’s about it for manufacturing consent. In the First World War, mass mobilization coincided with an eruption from below — indeed the rise of socialism in the lead-up played a part motivating the anxieties of the then ruling classes, even if it did nothing for pacifism in the event despite ideological promises.

    I know Americans know and appreciate little of what has been done in their name to prod and provoke the Russian bear. Neoliberalism serves to make Western European leaders completely ignorant about what makes their countries run, what supports their high incomes. At the moment, that ignorance seems key: the crumbling of ruling coalitions across Western Europe is hard to ignore, even if the ultimate consequences remain obscure. Can a real opposition and alternative to neoliberalism and American Empire emerge?

  8. Feral Finster

    Note that the simultaneous sabotage of NS1 and NS2 has taken away most of the carrots that Russia can offer Europe.

    It doesn’t take a Machiavelli to figure out who benefits.

  9. StewartM

    Zelensky’s opposition is equally maximalist and rightist–at least the opposition that matters (the Azov battalion types in his military and police). I’d even wager that a non-maximalist peace might result in the Azov types off’ing Zelensky.

    Meanwhile, US elites chase after the magical 2 % inflation unicorn by crushing the poors even more than they were crushed in 1980. However, the tight labor market isn’t responding much to-date, just because as the US ages there are fewer and fewer working-class people. The only real way to tackle inflation is to go after the cause–non-competitive markets, simplified (and thus more fragile) supply chains, and along with the latter, offshoring (because once a supplier is outside your borders you lose control of it when scarcity hits).

    And what Vietnam Vet says. With our elites, they are so fascinated by *money* they forget that money is different than actual wealth. The US may have more money now, but is less wealthy now than the country of my youth, in almost every measure that really matters.

  10. Carborundum

    I don’t think European pols, at least western European pols, are as backed into a corner as you believe. Ukraine simply isn’t important enough – summer polling from Open Society Foundation showed fewer than half of Poles (45%), Britons (39%), and Germans (33%) ranking the situation in Ukraine in the top three global issues.

    I would further say opinion is far from hardline on pols needing to deliver a military resolution. While there is very strong agreement that the conflict should be resolved by a Russian withdrawal from Ukrainian territory, 30% of respondents from the OECD thought it is reasonable that Russia should have more influence in Ukraine than the West and just 39% of Western European respondents agreed with providing weapons and funding. Lots of room to slap face-saving lipstick on a pig when it comes to “solutions” there. The major danger I see is folks letting a rump of smaller NATO powers that live in the neighbourhood have too much sway over policy, but the major NATO powers are highly seized of this.

  11. Dallas Galvin

    Brilliant. Thank you, Ian!
    Like most such things, the logic is obvious, and yet, and yet… it isn’t”t followed. Not only are the White House’s Three Stooges in charge of foreign affairs embarrassing mediocrities, but also too lacking in imagination to see the long-term consequences (apart from nuclear Armageddon) of the massive recession they’ve set in motion across the West. Not a good way to hold on to that ‘power of holding office’ these leaders covet, at the expense thousands of human lives.
    How telling that most of the “Third World”(i.e., ex-colonies) —across Africa, South & Central America, the Caribbean, and Mexico — have neither sent troops nor done more than mouth platitudes about invasion’s being naughty….
    Whether it’s to save “us” from terrorism, bring Jesus to the heathen, or civilization to the savage: Fallujah, the Boer War, famines engineered upon once wealthy countries (Haiti/France, India & Ireland/U.K., Namibia/Germany, et al.), or another preposterous cover story, the survivors and their descendants know the drill.
    It would be so wonderful, Ian, if you would apply your genius to the prospects for these Other Countries. It seems to me that the BRICS and scores of others have taken the measure of these mastodons and their needless war and will now create their own (hopefully wiser) way. What’s your take?

  12. different clue


    ” While there is very strong agreement that the conflict should be resolved by a Russian withdrawal from Ukrainian territory, ” . . .

    ‘ resolved by a Russian withdrawal from Ukrainian territory’ . . . ? Really? That garbage barge has sailed and sank. Russia will not willingly withdraw from any territory whatsoever, least of all territory it has re-branded as “Russia”.

    So as this article notes, when one side has lost so totally that it physically can’t fight on any longer, then some sort of post-warfighting armistice might be arranged.

  13. Carborundum

    Welcome to the wonderful world of public opinion. Most of the body public is poorly informed and substantially all of it is capable to holding multiple entirely unreconcilable views simultaneously (to say nothing of whether any of those views are compatible with reality).

    This is a significant part of why I find the polls so laughable – they’re generally about one small step away from wetting themselves over whatever’s gone viral on Twitter today, grounded in median expertise on any randomly chosen topic that hovers somewhere below a bright third grader.

  14. elkern

    Useful data point: NS2 was filled with pressurized gas, but delivery was cancelled by Sanctions. The pipeline is now “serving as a 750-mile-long storage tank for some $350 million worth of Russian natural gas”.

    IMO, this rules out Russian sabotage, because it (1) eliminates the “carrot” of gas to save Germany/Europe from cold winter & industrial collapse and (2) costs Russia real money.

    Quote is from Maritime Executive, a real straight newsletter for smart rich people that doesn’t seem infected with either pro- nor anti-Russian propaganda. I follow them on FB to keep tabs on international Trade, and because I think Big Boats are Really Cool.

    Looks like Links aren’t used in Comments. Find original by Googing “maritime executive large-gas-leak-from-nord-stream-2-pipeline”

  15. different clue

    A recent thread at Naked Capitalism featured some commenters riffing off eachothers’ comments about how huge numbers of “defeated” Nazi German personnel were rescued and installed throughout the major Western Alliance governments in order to Nazify them. If I have more time at some point, I will try going back through the hundreds of thousands of words which have built up at NaCap since then to bring the link here. It looks as though people are ready to hear, see and speak of that which David Emory and Jeff Wells were writing and/or broadcasting about years ago.

    The question arises: should we regard Nazi Germany as the highest, truest, and purest expression of Western Civilization . . . . the branch of Western Civilization which was willing to say the silent parts out loud?

  16. Jim Harmon


    Hollywood Elsewhere is Jeffrey Wells’ successor site. It features mostly movie news, but does branch out into current affairs. (A few days ago he covered Georgia Meloni,)

  17. different clue

    @Jim Harmon,

    Thanks for that. I had no idea that Jeffrey Wells would create a successor site. I think he found the reality addressed at Rigorous Intuition to be too depressing to bear facing anymore. Considering all the good work he did there, he has earned the right to a rest.

    I will look at Hollywood Elsewhere and see if it offers a link to the legacy Rigorous Intuition 2.0 blog ( the complete version).

  18. different clue

    @Jim Harmon,

    I looked at Hollywood Elsewhere. It offers zero mention of any trace of any mention of any trace of any hint of “Rigorous Intuition”. I think Jeff Wells wants a very clean break between the two.

    It looks like worth reading in its own right, though. I will visit it briefestly every now and again.

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